And Online But Online
C*ntent Issue 6
When you next sit back on your chair for five minutes, riddle me this:
What’s the point of being online?
I think about this a lot. Not in a negative or curmudgeonly way. In a curious way. In such a way where I want to find an answer. Because I think there is one there, somewhere. Probably. Maybe.
For some, they were born into the idea of ‘being online’. Twitter/Facebook/TikTok/Instagram/MySpace/Google/Snapchat/Bebo/MSN/Yahoo. For those people, this question isn’t even a consideration. Online—in its many flavours—is just there. In the same way cars exist to pollute our gentrified cities, online exists. It was never not there.
As I tweeted in my online state earlier:
I remember a time when the term ‘offline’ wasn’t even a thing, because there wasn’t an online.
Weird to think about that now.
I remember. I remember pre-online. Hell, I just about remember pre-internet. I remember a childhood with no idea that the internet was about to roll into our worlds like a boulder chasing us, Indiana Jones-style. I remember a time when the term ‘offline’ wasn’t even a thing, because there wasn’t an online. You were always offline. I’m the last generation that remembers a time like this.
And everything certainly isn’t worse now. There’s a lot that’s gotten better. The idea of keeping in touch with people from all around the world is still fascinating to me. I’ve made a career out of the internet, designing websites and brands for businesses. There’s many parts of the internet that’s still magical. Even simple things like the fact I can copy some text on my iPhone and paste it on my computer. That little bit of text I copied on my iPhone gets beamed through the internet to my other device. It’s not life-changing but it’s life-enhancing.
But there’s many things that are worse now. Objectively worse. Corporations have weaponised our relationships, pressuring us to talk to more people, on more channels, at increasing intervals. You have to declare yourself ‘offline’ for some peace. There’s a creeping duality to most of our lives, our ‘online’ avatar and our ‘offline’ avatar sitting at two sides of the same room. Some people try to intentionally keep them separate. Others, not so much. Sitting at a dinner table with several friends leads most people to check their phones and present their discoveries to the rest of the table, instead of just putting their phones away. Most will be sat at that same dinner table with their offline friends whilst simultaneously talking to their online friends. Many people live too much in their online worlds to the detriment of their offline ones.
And there’s good sides to that too. I’ve made friends with people all around the globe. Interesting friends I would have never been able to make before the internet existed. I live in a small town in the UK. The majority of people who live in a town like mine don’t see things the way I do. I have to go wider and farther to find people with similar opinions, and that’s where the internet helps. I can chat to people who see things the same way as I do.
But are they really friends, and should I be spending more time in the ‘real world’ trying to talk to real people? Should I be spending more time looking into the whites of people’s eyes instead of into the whites of people’s profile pictures? If you never meet somebody in real life, do you really know them? In an online world you can become any avatar you choose to be. You aren’t limited by concepts such as reality or permanence. Is that a good thing?
And it’s certainly accelerated our rate of development as a human species. Not only on the friends front, giving us the capability to have more friends than ever and keep in touch with them easier than ever. Information is easier to access. Thousands of years of information is available to us within thousandths of seconds. Our next evolution as a species has clearly already began to happen: how can it not have done? Everything is accessible within three button clicks.
But all that’s really done is accelerate our demise rather than accelerate our enlightenment or development. We now have no attention span, no patience, and no understanding of the long-term. Why would we? When we can press a button to call up a website that will sell us whatever we desire to arrive at our house the next day, we have no need for patience or attention spans. Some would say online is evolving us. Some would say online is eroding us.
And when you really think about it, I mean really think about it, does any of this matter? The world happens around us every day. Are things better now, or just different? It’s hard to know if things are better or just different when you’re in amongst the muck. You could never be not online now.
Is being online good? Is it bad? Who knows. All I know: the idea of being ‘online’ has happened and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a fun thought experiment to post online about though isn’t it?